The culture of domestic violence

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By Akola Thompson
CLOSE to two years ago, on my way home after late university classes, I was robbed and beaten. My shouts for help were loud, and the next morning, when my cousin went around to the different houses on the street, we realised that those shouts could have been heard very far away.

Despite that, no one came to my aid, and it was only after the robber had grabbed my bag and run to his waiting vehicle that anyone come out. There are very few things that could amuse me when I am upset, even moreso if I am hurt and drenched in blood and dirt. That night however, through the pain of my busted lip and broken tooth, a smile inadvertently escaped me as the first question I was asked by a woman who ran out with a bucket of water to rinse the blood off asked, “Is you boyfriend? Y’all getting problems?”

While I have been aware of inter-spousal abuse all my life — as neighbours and even irate visiting family members were not very quiet — the question made me realize that domestic violence has become extremely normalized in our society.

The women who had run out to me afterwards were perfectly content to have let the matter go had it been a case of spousal abuse, but as soon as I said “thief”, everyone sped into action. The police were called, men were sent out on their bicycles to see if they could spot the offending vehicle, and I was escorted home by a throng of women. God bless those caring souls.

The police did not come; so, accompanied by my cousin, I caught a cab and went to the nearest station, which was at La Grange. There, I was flippantly told to write what was stolen from me in a ledger book, and was asked at least twice by a drowsy officer whether I knew the person. In all honesty I did not, but the officer seemed to believe I did, and that was the end of the case. No follow-ups were made, I was not asked for specifics, nothing. To them, it was a simple case of either spousal abuse or revenge abuse for breaking up with a spouse.

Women and men become so accustomed to being abused that they not only protect their abusers when it comes time for them to be charged, but they blame other women who are abused for being responsible for their abuse. That experience was a strong eye-opener for me, because it made me realize that very few legitimately care about domestic abuse; and instead, its perpetrators are protected, and even idealized.

I was recently sent a link to a Facebook page in which the wife of a popular Trinidadian auto dealer had hacked his account and uploaded several photos of injuries she sustained from beatings.  While the photos were gruesome and disturbing, spanning several months and years, some of the comments were even more disturbing.

While some applauded her for her strength in finally leaving her husband and exposing him, others wondered why she would do such a thing to a respected man; and some even wondered why she was trying to bring down her race (she is Indian). Unfortunately, I believe that Guyana is full of people who are usually on the side of the abusers, and not the victims.

Growing up in a rural village in Berbice, I know too well of communities which view outsiders and anyone speaking to outsiders as untrustworthy. Elders, who have been conditioned to believe that that is just the way relationships work, further condition their children to believe same, and the cycle continues. Girls are taught to be dependent on men, which further cements their doom, as lack of financial stability causes many women to stay with their abusers.

These communities, which are largely patriarchal, have developed an unspoken haven for abusers, so much so that even the abused begin blaming themselves for the punishments meted out to them. Too often, society chooses to blame the victims for staying, rather than blaming themselves for encouraging such behaviours.

Having once been a victim of domestic abuse, I have seen both covert and overt perpetuation of domestic violence from my friends, family members and my partner’s family. I am not usually one to write personal bits about myself, but when I do, it’s because I don’t believe I have the right to keep my experiences away from others who may benefit from them in some small way or the other.

I became a mother at 16, during which time I lived with my then boyfriend and his family. Often, abuse starts in the smallest of ways, and continuously escalates as the offenders become more emboldened. In my case, it first started as verbal abuse, but quickly escalated. Various forms of abuse would often be meted out to me in the presence of his family members, who would never utter a word of reprimand, but would later tell me to try not to anger him.

At the time, I was a high school dropout who felt as if she had no other option. It was not until a belt was wrapped around my throat in an effort to strangle me that I realised it was either I leave or become a casualty of domestic violence.

I left, and refused to return despite encouragements from both my family and his. Sometimes even a young person knows what is best for him/her self. Shortly after, I re-enrolled into high school, successfully completed it, and then enrolled into University, where I am now in my second year.

Domestic abuse needs to be dragged out from under the blankets of ‘family matters’, and be criticized by the public so that its transgressors can be punished.

I wrote in a recent column that we, as a race, do not really hate rapists; what we hate is the idea of them. I have come to think the same of abusers also. In order to effectively tackle domestic violence, I believe that the cycle of impunity must be broken and a ‘zero-tolerance’ stamp placed on domestic violence. Do not be swayed by partners suffering from battered wife syndrome, stating that they have forgiven their wrongdoers. Remaining stoic in the face of such forgiveness can often be a matter of life and death.